24 August, 2019

April 2012

Jonanthan Piercy: tips for a warm and dry spring (but watch for frosts!)

1. It looks like we are going to have a continued dry spell so a good mulch on areas of the garden which you wish to keep damp is a good idea.

2. If you gather grass clippings when you mow the lawn use as a mulch under plants to conserve moisture.

3. Summer flowering bulbs are now available and can be started off in the greenhouse to give a longer flowering season.

4. Aphids are becoming common now the warmer weather has arrived. Control with insecticide. You will need a regular spraying programme.

5. Early potatoes can now be planted. Salad crops can be sown and direct sowing of carrots and other vegetables can be made.

Use fleece for frost protection

6. Winter frost damage is now beginning to show. Prune out back to new growth.

Watch out for frosts as they can do damage to tender growth on plants. Cover any tender shoots with fleece to protect.

7. Fertiliser can be applied to lawns and borders. It is best to do this when rain is forecast to wash in the fertiliser.

8. Any newly planted trees and shrubs will now require daily watering.

9. Seedling weeds are appearing all the time so a regular hoeing is required.

10. Some plants grow very quickly at this time of year and may require tying in regularly.


Peter Blackburne-Maze muses on spring frosts at blossom time.

Coming originally from the South, I can understand why Kent is the centre of the British fruit growing industry and not Yorkshire!

That’s right; spring frosts at blossom time. These are the ones that freeze and kill the flowers that would otherwise have developed into fruits.

Probably the worst place to live if you want to grow fruit is in the bottom of a valley. In such a position, the cold air, which is heavier than the warm air, sinks down the sides of the valley. At the same time, the warm air rises, cools down and joins the other cold air in the bottom of the valley.

Wild cherry blossom

This is when you often hear people talking about a ‘frost pocket’; a place where cold air sinks and collects. This cold air keeps on getting colder until, before long, it fills up much of the valley and woe betide any fruit blossom that has the nerve to come out .

There really isn’t a lot that can be done about this on a garden scale but, if it is applicable, planting a hedge along the upper boundary will keep a lot of the cold air on the far side and out of your garden. Of course, this may not be popular with the neighbour but that’s just his hard cheese!

The other trick, which is really just turning this solution on its head because, if you have a hedge on the lower boundary of your garden (you’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?), you can make gaps in it so that the freezing air isn’t held in your garden but sinks to the lower one on the other side of the hedge, in which you have just made the gaps!

Another and more interesting way of reducing the damage to blossoms by frost is, however, confined to commercial fruit growers because it involves spraying water over the trees once the temperature has dropped to just a degree or so above freezing. It’s easier for commercial growers because the irrigation system is used.

When the trees are sprayed overhead, the water temperature quickly drops to around freezing; in fact, it drops to the current air temperature. In doing so, the water loses warmth (heat) so whatever it is touching (in this case, the blossom and young shoots) absorbs this heat and whatever it is touching, has it’s temperature lifted to above freezing. And Bob’s your uncle. That’s just what we wanted.

Clearly this is only possible on a commercial scale but it shows how little heat is needed to avert disaster.

One type of smudge pot

When I was no ‘ but a lad’, we used to light ‘smudge pots’ in the orchard to raise the temperature. These where sort of paraffin stoves which burnt waste oil from the farm and the smoke that they gave off was enough to raise the air temperature in the orchard the degree or so that spelt the difference between fruit or no fruit. Clearly though, this was only possible where there were no houses nearby or the language from the householders was something that had to be heard to be believed!

Coming back to common sense, though, the most possible and practical way for gardeners to keep frost off fruit blossom is to throw sheets of fleece over the trees and bushes that are in, or close to, flowering when a frost threatens. You can buy this from most garden nurseries and retailers.

The glory of this stuff is that it is so adaptable and can be used to keep the frost off any number of tender and half-hardy plants.


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